Relying on your team to get the job done can be a great way to lead. This can give your team confidence, show you have trust in them and make them put in additional effort to keep it that way.
As with most aspects of leadership, relying on your team is a balancing act. Rely on them too little and you’ll be a micromanager, constantly checking and re-checking everything they do. Rely on them too much and you stop paying attention, getting on with other tasks while they do the work.
Not being able to trust your team is bad, having too much trust may not be much better
Obviously, not being able to trust your team is a very bad place to be. Having too much trust can also be problematic. I used to work for a manager who had tremendous faith in his people. Luckily for him, most of his team members were smart, dedicated and took pride in their work, meaning that there were very few slip-ups. This had the benefit of freeing up his time, as he knew that the work was taken care of and the quality would be high.
However, he did get caught out once or twice by putting too much faith in somebody that wasn’t up to the job, and this meant he was effectively blindsided by an issue that he wasn’t expecting. Not a good look, when you seem as if you don’t know what your team is doing.
Relying on your team too much is an issue when accountabilities aren’t clear
I was caught out recently with an unexpected issue that arose at a critical juncture in a project. I caught myself thinking “Shouldn’t my team have thought of that?” But ultimately, there is no real excuse for that type of thinking. Although it may have been something that my team should have thought of, I’m still accountable for the success of the project.
This is when it became obvious to me that I had placed too much trust in my team to think of everything. Placing trust is not a bad thing to do as a leader, and my trust wasn’t misplaced – the team I work with are good at what they do. I had placed trust in others because it was easier to do that than to micromanage – I needed time to handle other things – other projects, other business development work, other internal tasks.
The real issue when placing your trust in somebody to deliver is when it isn’t clear what everybody is accountable for. It’s all very well for me to think “Jo will take care of it”, but that only works if Jo knows that’s the case! Otherwise she could very well be thinking that I will be handling the job.
Then you have two people saying “I thought you were doing that” at the same time…not a good look.
Don’t use trust in your team as a crutch
As leaders we need to be careful that we don’t use trust in our team as a crutch or an easy way out to divulge responsibility. You can’t rely on your team just so that it frees up time for you to do other tasks – you still need to be monitoring what is happening.
The only way to do otherwise is to clearly specify that your team are accountable for something, and that they need to own it. This can also be a dangerous tactic, because ultimately you can’t blame a failure on your team, it is always going to be your responsibility in some way.
Place your trust, be clear about responsibilities but don’t fade into the background. Continue to monitor the situation to head off any nasty consequences. After all, what’s the point of leadership if your team can do everything and think of everything by themselves?